Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

The Times: Highlights from Past Newsletters

From 1970 to 2002 the CTBUH issued a newsletter called “The Times” to its membership. The predecessor to today’s digital monthly e-newsletter, “The Times”—issued on an approximately quarterly basis—contained updates on Council activities, announcements of upcoming events and meetings, as well as general tall building news of interest. “The Times” archive at CTBUH headquarters—which contains all 105 issues produced before it transitioned to the digital version we have today—provides a historic account of Council activity back to its earliest days. The following are a few excerpts from past issues.

October 23, 1970 (Vol. 1, No. 1)


Even from the very first issue of “The Times” the Council’s interest in height and tall building rankings is apparent with the inclusion of a news article on the World Trade Center:

World Trade Center Becomes World’s Highest Building—by 4 Feet
At 2:51 yesterday afternoon, the Empire State Building became the second tallest skyscraper in the world. Two and three-quarters miles downtown a four-ton piece of steel framework of the north tower of the World Trade Center was fitted into place, extending the framework past the 102nd-story level to a height of 1,254 feet above street level—four feet higher than the Empire State Building. The trade center will eventually be 110 stories high…Forty years ago, almost to the week, the Empire State edged past the Chrysler Building to become the world’s tallest. Work has begun in Chicago on a building that will be taller than the trade center.

August 21, 1971 (Vol. 2, No. 4)

June 15, 1973 (Vol. 4, No. 2)
Justification for Sears Tower

Bruce Graham, architect for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Sears Tower announced at the Mexico City Conference that the Chicago skyscraper was now the world’s tallest. At that time it had only three stories to go before “topping out” at 1450’. Its height justification was to provide adequate space at street level for a plaza. “Otherwise the office requirements would have filled the block sidewalk to sidewalk, creating the gloomy canyons that resulted from some of the designs of earlier generation,” he said. The Sears Tower was formally topped out on May 2, 1973.

“The high-rise is the result of the natural tendency of people to group themselves. The case for the high-rise is that It allows one to leave a bit of green space—perhaps for a siesta. We have a chance to be conscious of what the real world is like. It can enhance the feeling that you, the person, are important.” …Minoru Yamasaki

December 23, 1976 (Vol. 7, No. 3)
Joint Committee Becomes Council
In recognition of the multi-professional nature of its membership and the scope of its activity, the Joint Committee on Tall Buildings has been renamed the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. The word “Council” reflects the multi-faceted nature of our professional concern. It also denotes a forum…a gathering together for discussion, exchange, and decision. The new words “Urban Habitat” bring into prominence what has been an essential component from our very beginnings in 1969—that urban environment (our first committee was “Environmental Systems”, and its subsequently expanded into an entire group, “Planning and Environmental Criteria”, and fifteen added specialty committees). “Habitat” is more and more coming to be what the 1976 Vancouver UN conference called it: Human settlement—the totality of the human community.”

November 22, 1978 (Vol. 9, No. 2)

August, 1982 (Vol. 13, No. 2)


This issue was dedicated to the memory of Fazlur R. Khan, prominent Council member and CTBUH Chairman at the time:

Fazlur R. Khan, prominent Partner and Chief Structural Engineer of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, Chicago, died March 27, 1982 on a trip to Jeddah…walking the campus of King Abdul Aziz University, after meeting about the implementation of the master plan for the University [Khan] suddenly collapsed. When he recovered he gave them some instructions as to what to tell [his wife] Liselotte if things went badly. They were very close to the University Teaching Hospital where there were excellent facilities. A doctor was passing by across the street at the time of the collapse. So he had immediate attention at the scene, and a full team of doctors at the hospital. But the attack was simply too severe…Dr. Khan left behind him a legacy few men can equal. A legacy of buildings that will stand the test of time. A legacy of knowledge, which he bestowed upon others. And a legacy of ideas, which will sow the seeds for more to grow.

May, 1984 (Vol 15. No.1)

This was the only issue of “The Times” to feature a single building for the entire issue. The exception was made for the Onterie Center “a special building—the last one whose structural design came from the hand of Fazlu r Khan. This issue, therefore, is dedicated to his creation—and his memory”. The issue included an interesting account of what the building would have to say about itself if it could have spoken at the groundbreaking ceremony:

I started as an idea 15 years ago at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Fazlur Khan was generously giving of his time to graduate students in Architecture. The basic ideas for my form and substance developed there, at the hands of those bright young talents. If it is possible to brace a building in steel, why not in concrete, they asked? So my skeleton will have a certain resemblance to the design of Khan and Bruce Graham that stands as my neighbor to the northwest—the John Hancock Center...

I am the product of Persistence. Long after my skeleton and life-giving systems were developed, it was not clear that those who wished to see me live could afford me. But it has all finally come together.

I am the product of Faith. The faith of one man, Chandra Jha, in the idea of his friend Fazlur Khan—to whom he paid tribute with these words: “He approached each building as if there were no buildings before and there would be no buildings afterwards. He always struggled to make it a humane and more livable space. His achievements transcended beyond the design of monumental buildings. His warmth radiated and touched each and every person that he met. He believed in individuals and in the richness of our heritage. He showed us how to make a difference. He made America richer and made us all so proud.”

As Onterie Center, I will stand as a dramatic reminder and a tribute to this man, Khan. Although I was the last building that his hand personally fashioned, his creative genius will be reflected in buildings for decades to come.

December, 1984 (Vol. 15, No. 3)
The Third Council Meeting was held in New Orleans, Louisiana. Highlights from the remarks of the final plenary session were summarized in this issue. From Alan Davenport:

In a violent storm, in many cases it’s not the wind that does damage but the flooding. In New Orleans, for example, 1.5 million people live below sea level. A Level 4 hurricane could result in a 25-foot surge and cost $12 billion. The high-rise is being considered as an escape in the event of floods. Studies show that total evacuation is not practicable, but that 30% of New Orleans’ residents can be accommodated in high-rise buildings.

November, 1988 (Vol.19, No. 3)

August, 1993 (Vol.24, No. 3)

June, 1996 (Vol.27 No.2)

May, 2001 (Vol.32 No.1)
After 32 years of serving the Council, CTBUH founder and driving force, Lynn S. Beedle retires with the following goodbye message at the close of this issue:

How do you say good-bye to a job you’ve loved? I guess you say thanks: To what must be one of the major volunteer groups in its field—for the writing of the monographs, for preparing the papers and speaking at congresses, and for sharing information for the databases. To the staff at headquarters, not only for their ability, but for their loyalty and dedication. (There are not many teams at Lehigh that serve together for 15 years or more.) To the over 200 Lehigh students (both graduate and undergraduate). We depended on them and they responded beautifully. To Helmut Beer whose IABSE lecture “Research on Tall Steel Buildings” on September 13, 1968 lit the fire. I wondered, “Who is using it?”. To Elmer Timby who asked the question in February of 1969: “What project can we take on so that we can have continuing interaction with our colleagues around the world?” That question started the CTBUH. To our Sponsoring Societies…To our distinguished Council Chairman…To Mike Gaus, Program Director at NSF in the 1960’s and 70’s. He saw that we would be developing a “new way of collecting and disseminating the latest information.” And he knew how to tap the “PL 480” money that made possible those early conferences in Bled, Cairo, and Warsaw. To our major contributors. For the first ten years or so of the Council’s life, it was NSF that provided the lion’s share of support. Then, under the leadership of Fazlur Khan, various firms and individuals saw the opportunity and benefits to the point that by the end of year 2000 there were 50 Contributing Participants, 21 Contributors, 16 Donors, 11 Sponsors, 7 Patrons, and 3 Benefactors…They represent a truly amazing array of talent in development, construction, structural and mechanical engineering, architecture, and the other twenty or so professions and the many suppliers that make up the team. To the Lehigh leaders…To the media. How little we realize the powerful influence of reporters and producers in the image that is generated. I would single out Arthur J. Fox, Editor Emeritus of ENR, whose insightful grasp of the mission of the Council came through so strongly in his writing. To the Executive Committee, backed up by the international Steering Group.

These are the leaders who made things happen and who kept the Council on the right track. The Best thing about the job was the interactions—whether face to face, by phone, through correspondence or (nowadays) by e-mail.

On re-reading the above, I realize that it illustrates the true mission of the CTBUH: The interaction of people to accomplish a worthwhile goal. As you prepared the monographs, participated in conferences, and contributed to the databases, you were participating in globalization long before it had a name. Thank you for what was a rare privilege.

November, 2001 (Vol. 32, No.2)
In one of the final issues of “The Times” before it gave way to its digital successor, R. Shankar Nair, former Chairman (1997–2001) shares his thoughts immediately following the tragedies of September 11, 2001:

When I agreed a few months ago to write the next “On My Mind” column as the outgoing chairman of the Council, I thought it would be the usual compendium of hopes and concerns and successes and disappointments at the end of four years in that position. But all of that seems trivial now. The world of tall buildings and the urban habitat was turned upside down on 11 September 2001.

Until that date, most of us would not have thought it possible that two of the tallest buildings in the world could be brought down by an act of terror. Tall buildings are safe; maybe the safest places to be in an emergency. Indeed, reassuring people of the safety of skyscrapers was one of my duties as Council chairman. So what happened?

I am writing this just two days after the disaster, but already there is near-consensus as to the mechanism of the structural collapse: The impact and fire (especially the fire) some distance below the top of the tower caused structural failure near the site of the impact and collapse of the part of the building above that location. This collapsing mass set off progressive collapse of the rest of the building (what the press has been describing as a ‘pancaking’ effect)

All of this may seem obvious in retrospect, but only in retrospect. How many of us can honestly say that we would have anticipated this particular chain of events leading to complete structural collapse from an airplane strike near the top of a tall building? And it happened twice, so we cannot say that it was an aberrant structural response.

None of this is meant to suggest that tall building are unsafe. In most dangerous situations, I would still rather be in a well-designed, well-constructed, well-managed tall building than almost anywhere else. But we must keep working to make buildings safer.

Safer does not necessarily mean stronger. The World Trade Center towers withstood the lateral loads imposed by the crashing jetliners; the building were strong enough in the conventional sense. But our conventional methods of analysis and design would not have predicted the fire and eventual progressive collapse. Clearly, there is much that we don’t know even about the physical response of buildings, let alone the nature of the threats that they may face.

Of course, a tall building will never be completely impervious to attack. But it need not be. Security specialists speak of “enclosure” and “encounter” as alternative means to security. In the former approach, we build a fortress around ourselves. In the latter, we eliminate threats by going out and engaging the world.

A certain amount of “enclosure” may be prudent, but the “encounter” approach is better suited to an open society. We don’t want to live in fortresses. And if building fortresses is our response to the New York tragedy, the criminals will have won a round.